Cryonics and Estate Planning

Sep 19, 2011 | 0 comments

This is today’s guest post that I wrote for the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys blog.

Former American Idol judge and The X Factor creator Simon Cowell. Famed baseball slugger Ted Williams. Bredo Morstoel. Robert Ettinger. What do these four men have in common? And who are Morstoel and Ettinger?

They all have been, or intend to be, put into a cryogenic deep freeze after death. Their hope: when medical science comes up with a cure for whatever ailed them, they can be revived, cured, and restored to life.

Given that this might happen hundreds of years in the future, if at all, the question is – how will their estates pay for this? You think modern medicine is expensive now, wait until 2311!

Cryogenics is a wild and woolly world. It’s a challenge for the estate planning attorneys of today and could be an issue for decades to come.

Robert C.W. Ettinger conceived cryonics and popularized the idea in a 1963 book, “The Prospect of Immortality.” Ettinger died on July 23, 2011, at the age of 92. Mr. Ettinger’s body was promptly placed in a cryonic capsule and frozen at minus 371 degrees Fahrenheit, after several days of graduated cooling.

Ettinger was a physics instructor and science fiction writer. His idea of freezing the dead for future reanimation repelled most scientists. Still, he persuaded at least 105 people to pay $28,000 each to have their bodies preserved in liquid nitrogen at his Cryonics Institute in suburban Detroit. His mother, Rhea, who died in 1977 at 78, was his first patient. No word in Ettinger’s obituary on how his family will continue to pay for the service in the future.

Before Simon Cowell indicated he’d like to be frozen, baseball legend Ted Williams, whose freezing at an unrelated Arizona facility in 2002 set off a well-publicized family feud, was probably the most notable cryonics adherent.

But even before these two famous cryonics fans, there was Trygve Bauge, grandson of Bredo Morstoel from Norway. We have Grandpa Bredo and Trygve to thank for the annual Frozen Dead Guy Days festival in Nederland, Colorado.

After Grandpa’s death due to a heart condition in 1989, Trygve had him packed in dry ice and shipped to a U.S. cryonics facility. In 1993, Trygve, hoping to start his own cryonics service, moved Grandpa to his concrete bunker home in Nederland, a tiny town 17 miles west of Boulder.

The story then takes a number of interesting turns. Trygve was deported back to Norway in 1995 due to visa issues. Long story short – Grandpa Bredo has been kept in a Tuff Shed-sheltered, dry ice-fueled deep freeze in Nederland ever since. The family sends money monthly to keep the dry ice stocked.

But how long will the family keep sending money? Grandpa Bredo has been on ice for 21 years. As far as anyone can tell, there is no family trust in place to keep “The Ice Man” coming with the monthly 1,600 pounds of dry ice that keeps Grandpa at a steady (and cryogenically inadequate) minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit. (Kids, don’t try this at home!)

At this point, the money from the annual festival benefits the town, not the family. This year, the Nederland Chamber of Commerce put the festival, now going into its eleventh year, up for sale to a professional festival organization.

I’m sure the family and the Chamber of Commerce would appreciate any free advice as to how to keep the cold hard cash coming.

A Good Goodbye